What's It Like to Use Watercolor Canvas?

How to Overcome the Challenges of Watercolor on Canvas

Canvas and Watercolor
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Watercolor painters are always looking for a new surface to paint on. While there are many great watercolor papers available, there is a certain appeal to painting on canvas. Using watercolors on a standard canvas used for oils and acrylic paints is not going to work well and that is why watercolor canvas was invented.

If you are interested in switching from watercolor on paper to canvas, there are some important things you need to consider and know.

It comes with a learning curve, but many artists are happy with the final results and the entire experience.

What is Watercolor Canvas?

Watercolor canvas is a recent addition to the surface options available to painters. Unlike standard canvas, this has been primed with a special formula that allows the canvas to be more absorbent and accept water-based paints.

As with anything, there are advantages and disadvantages to a watercolor canvas. Even experienced watercolor painters will find that they need to develop and employ a few different watercolor techniques.

The Advantages of Watercolor Canvas

The many textured watercolor papers available are great, but they don't have the exact look and feel of canvas. The papers can also tear easily if you're an aggressive painter, accidentally get a spot too wet, or work it too much.

Canvas, on the other hand, is more durable and less likely to tear or rip while painting.

It allows the artists greater freedom and less fear of damage.

There are some great advantages to using watercolor canvas:

  • The paint can be lifted off very easily. You can even 'wash' the paint off a watercolor canvas completely and start again.
  • Watercolor canvas will cope with harsher treatment than paper.
  • Watercolor canvas stays wetter longer than a sheet of paper would. This leaves the paint workable for a longer period of time and does have its advantages for blending.

You will also find that it is easier to display a canvas than watercolor paintings on paper. If properly finished with a protective spray, a watercolor on canvas can be hung directly on the wall and no frame is needed.

Manufacturers like Fredrix offer a variety of watercolor canvas options, including stretched and roll canvas as well as canvas boards and pads.

Buy Fredrix Watercolor Canvas at Amazon.com

The Disadvantages of Watercolor Canvas

Painting on canvas is a different experience than paper, no matter which medium you choose. Yet, watercolor paints come with their own set of challenges which painters will need to work around.

At the root of all of these issues is the fact that canvas is not as absorbent as paper; watercolor needs to be absorbed into the surface. That is why the special coating was developed for watercolor canvas.

Nothing is perfect and watercolor artists have uncovered and need to compensate for a number of problems:

  • It is difficult to move paint around the canvas without 'lifting' the previous layer of paint. The fix: You will need to 'fix' a layer of paint with a clear acrylic medium and allow it to dry completely.
  • Watercolor paint can pool on the canvas because it is not properly absorbed. The fix: Do some testing with your paint and use less water than you may use on paper.
  • The paint does not stick to the canvas, even after an acrylic medium had been sprayed on it. The fix: This seems to be the greatest problem and a lot of trial and error is necessary to get it working for you.

If you are considering the switch to the canvas, it would be best to do a test painting before you put any great effort into a 'real' painting. Use this to experiment with brush strokes and paint concentration and to test the watercolor's ability to wash off as well as your best approach to layering and blending paints.

When you're done with your tests, be sure to try out an acrylic spray varnish or medium until you get the protection needed.

It is very important that the protective coating is sprayed on (not brushed) because the brush will likely pull off and smear your watercolors.

Priming for Watercolors on Standard Canvas

Can you use normal canvas for watercolor paints? Frugal artists are always trying to reuse materials, so this is a common question. In order to use watercolors on canvas, you need a special base and that is why watercolor canvas was created.

If you do want to try and use watercolors on spare canvas that you would normally use oil or acrylic paints on, you need to take extra steps to prepare it. The results may not be the best, but it is possible and you will still need to make many of the changes discussed for watercolor canvas.

  1. Prepare the canvas as normal with at least two coats of gesso, allowing each to dry completely.
  2. Apply 5-6 thin coats (thin works best) of a watercolor ground like QoR Watercolor Ground or Golden Absorbent Ground, allowing each to dry completely.
  3. Allow the canvas to rest for at least 24 hours before applying watercolor paints.